Posts from the ‘Tuition’ Category

A Woman’s Worth…

Bo-and-the-Duchess

 

(The picture is of Norma Jean Wofford, also known as ‘The Duchess’ – lead guitarist with Bo Diddley from ’62-’66. She doesn’t appear in the book I’m talking about here, but this image goes very well with my blog post title. There were dozens of artists that I could have envisaged in the project. Would I like to see Giving Birth to Sound volume II and III and beyond? Yes.  Also a CD compilation and a dedicated music festival? You bet. I’m dreaming big…)

This post is about the worth and significance of musicians – female ones in particular – our capacity as story-tellers, mediums, healers, visionaries, agitators, collaborators entertainers and communicators. Every week, I am still riding the wave of momentum generated by ‘Giving Birth To Sound’ – the new book by Cologne jazz publisher Buddy’s Knife. With a foreword by legendary jazz pianist Amina Claudine Myers and featuring 48 female musicians – including myself. Over a year ago, I was approached by the editor, Renate da Rin. Would I like to be interviewed for a book about female musicians in jazz and creative music? I was up for it of course, and now suddenly the book has arrived and it’s an absolute dream. I am honoured and happy to be sitting side by side with some of my influences and industry legends. A rich collection of personal histories and records of incredible achievement. The contributions have all been translated into English but each artist tells of a very personal relationship to sound, with a diverse range of nationalities, cultures, languages and instrumentation.

All the artists in the book are receiving our copies at different times and reading the final creation at different paces. Needless to say, with a sense of unfolding wonder and high hopes for further contact and projects. This feels unstoppable! For my part, I feel determined to draw attention to what has been achieved here and why it’s important. Despite distinct differences in age, race, language, education and geography, attitude to music, society and concepts of ‘womanhood’, there are common themes amongst the participants – which speak volumes about the times we are living in. An awareness of injustice, a recognition of global inequality and an economic climate where poverty is being demonised and money worshipped, the natural world being destroyed. A recognition that things are in some ways worse not better. A proud, fearless independence, but love of collaboration. An almost mystical, ecstatic reverie that comes from the creative process. Early exposure not just to musical stimulus, but to the worlds of the imagination. A generous passion and hope for the music above all – often expressed in words that are non-linear, poetic, idiomatic and rhapsodic. The book actually reads like a piece of music itself.

Women and girls have been told so many times that we can’t do stuff – either that we’re weak, incompetent and decorative … or in other periods of history and geography, that we are only good for sex, childcare, menial labour and social scapegoating, physical/emotional punchbags, with no access to self-improvement. I don’t say that lightly. In some areas, women have lower status than a domestic animal. Though happily, neither extreme is my own personal experience – the reality of worldwide abuse of women and girls is now so widely known about, that the concept of  female emancipation can no longer be ridiculed as some special interest feminist minority issue. It’s affecting the gender which is actually the majority. So it brings me joy when I see initiatives that really celebrate women. Our stories need to be heard. Some of them are shocking.

 (Here’s what I wrote to the editors:)

”The more I read of the book, the more I am blown away, with love and inspiration, heart quakes and shakes, tears of solidarity and empathy and also a fair bit of socio-political outrage. Today, reading the story of the musician who was accused as a child of being a liar – (TWICE) as her work was so advanced they didn’t believe it was hers… (this happened to me at school, with a play I wrote.)”  * I remember too, after a performance at the Isle of Wight Jazz festival, being approached by the (drunk) director of another prominent UK jazz festival. He accused me of not being the author of my own songs, which he threatened to  research and expose as classic standards which I had in fact plagiarised. Talk about a compliment and insult at the same time. I later received an apology …

 (I also wrote this to the editors:)

”I have to say, a book, (so much more than just a ‘book’) of this nature could not have happened at this time in the UK. We’re beset here with a governmental drive towards austerity that is unbelievable. But there are valiant pockets of rebellion and creativity resourcefulness, generosity and people-power all the more amazing, as we are operating against the odds here. A common theme amongst some of the contributors seems to be the increasing punishment of the poor and of poverty by government and media, affecting all artists – so maybe this economic trend is worldwide. BUT I am so thankful to you creative jazz loving folks at Buddys Knife – for your intellectual courage, determination and artistic integrity in doing this project.
Each one of these 48 contributors is not just a musical creator, but leader, visionary and dare I say it – shaman/sorcerer/witch/wizard/world-bridger and changer of epic proportions. Each with her own networks of international creativity. There are some global possibilities here. As with all creations – a mixture of strong desire/intent and a trust and ALLOWING… the inevitability and momentum of dreams coming to fruit : ) Thinking big. Loving large. Powering the imagination. Women are rising again.”

Here is the intro on the back cover, which says it beautifully. Here’s why you need to read this book! Please order it and buy copies for your friends, libraries, schools, jazz cafes. By doing so you will be helping to support the next stage of our journey – you too will be ‘giving birth to sound!’

”Giving Birth to Sound is about Her-story as told by some of the most brilliant and creative women musicians in the world. Individual thinkers and movers who have been brave enough to devote their lives to the making of music the way they hear it. They were not afraid to sing and speak in the name of sound, showing us that they are a family of unique individuals, separate but united. Read their words and listen to their music whenever you can – it will take you even closer to the great mystery called life.”
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   How to buy the book:
   http://www.buddysknife.de/our-titles/
   info@buddysknife.de
   Available on amazon.com and amazon.de.
Thank you for reading!

 

 

 

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Guy Kawasaki – those ’12 tips’ reframed…

 

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In this post, I thought I’d revisit some ideas I picked up (and am still processing) from author, entrepreneur, public speaker and self-styled business ‘evangelist’ Guy Kawasaki. Kawasaki worked at Apple with the late Steve Jobs. He now has dozens of free videos online, books, a blog, courses and classes. (His recent book, ‘Enchantment – The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions’, is available through his website. )


 

As a musician, I am still getting to grips with this new business model of the 360 degree DIY artist/’solo-preneur’. No matter how many times I hear that the industry is now better for us – a global, open playing field where we can sell our wares directly to our customers via the internet and social media – I still find business speak difficult. At times I think artists are more vulnerable than ever to marketing gurus willing to take our money, in return for a kind of bogus access to the wider world via ‘tweets’ and Facebook ‘likes’.

Most of us weren’t taught this at school, and the learning curve can be steep. The myth of the rock star is etched into our modern culture. Traditionally, musicians are supposed to be volatile, semi-nocturnal, booze-addled egomaniacs with little thought for routine, pre-planning or self-analysis – at least not the business side of what we do. That was left that to managers, fixers, agents and record companies – with positive and negative results. But what does come naturally is: flights of inspiration, ‘blue sky thinking’, spiritual reverie, spontaneity and lateral thinking. Creative people already live in that space. That’s why I like this inventive and irreverent list – based on broad, sometimes random, cross-disciplinary principles. I’m going to unpack it from a musicians point of view.  The original film is full of humour and some great anecdotes – well worth a look.

Here we go with:

Guy Kawasakis 12 tips learnt from Steve Jobs:

1. Experts are Clueless. In other words, beware the aura of respectability that goes with traditional education. True knowledge comes from the bones, the body, the years and years of doing it. Trial and error. Experience. The humility of knowing that as we perceive something – it changes and so do we. The more we think we know, the less we know. There is everything to learn and nothing is ever quite what it seems. I’d like to expand this point to say that true experts can be found away from the self-appointed gurus or motivational speakers, scholars or graduates of any field. The best speakers and educators teach through the power of story, anecdote, humour, proven success, spectacular failure, exceptions to every rule, last minute turn arounds, luck and co-incidence.

2. Customers Cannot Tell You What Whey Want.  Most people do not know what they want and are highly suggestible. However, generally we all want to feel these things: prosperous, attractive, sexually desirable, powerful, youthful, respected, inspired, hopeful, loved, comforted and connected – to belong. Part of the whole, yet, special.  Advertisers know this and exploit it to the hilt, whether they’re selling beer, movie tickets, cars, razors, depilatory cream, ready meals, extreme sports holidays, condoms, clothes, weddings, perfume, luxury flats or organic produce. For artists, remember, the power is  in your hands. Despite what others may tell you, you do not have to conform to the latest trend. Write your music the way you hear it and speak your truth. Know yourself and stick to you plan. Bring the audience round, win them over, reel them in. The vast majority of potential customers quite like to be told what to do, what to wear, what to listen to, what products to buy, relieved of the burden of choosing, in a busy fast paced world. Every weekend people buy sunday papers with a colour section filled with explicit consumer directives, lists, selections, reviews and surveys. Literally, ‘Buy this. Eat this’ etc. That’s in addition to the adverts.  You can manipulate this too, to a degree. I believe artists make art primarily for ourselves – our sanity depends on it. If we can sell enough to keep doing it that’s a bonus and if we discover some sort of spiritual mandate about raising the collective vibration in the process, so much the better. Remember your art comes from you, or at least through you. You are the boss. believe it. Embody it. Love it. Then let your natural persuasion flow.

3. Biggest Challenges Beget the Best Work.  If something scares you – do it. If you feel the urge to resurrect  an aspect of your skill set that you neglected, but which your soul is crying out to express – do it. Bite off more than you can chew, feel the terror and watch as your entire career grows and expands. This is hard for artists – every day already feels like a challenge, in terms of money, time, sleep, energy levels and the ongoing search for recognition. It’s worth reaching for the impossible and expanding beyond your limits. However it’s also worth saying that you have to balance this with adequate self-care and nurturance of yourself as the art-producing organism. Give yourself a time frame for your challenges and take yourself seriously enough that when you leap for the stars you have some support in place. Victory loves preparation and I think that fortune favours those who are ready.

4. Design Counts. There is an initial moment in every encounter where style does trump substance. It’s the first impression and it’s usually visual. People respond on this level in a way that’s instinctive and emotional. Something that looks and feels visually coherent and harmonious invites further engagement. Past this point, the non-visual qualities take over, but if you want to hook people in from the get-go, visuals matter. For musicians, decent photos are a must – so are clear graphics, text and pleasing colours for websites, posters, album covers etc.

5. Big Graphics/Big Font. Obvious and yet sometimes overlooked in attempts to be overly artistic and clever, especially in publicity and marketing. Make sure the information you want to convey is coming across. It can make the difference between customers buying your music, or proceeding to the next new face on iTunes whose biog and links they can actually decipher. There are people who willing to go the extra mile to read smaller text and rules can be broken in the name of artistic license. I write this blog with pale text on a brown background – which is not to everyones liking – but the overall impression reflects my style better than a more conventional black on white format.

6. Jump Curves not ‘Better Sameness’.  I like this – and also find it scary. It strikes a chord which applies to all learning. Jazz musicians know that true improvisation is not about playing your known scales as competently as possible. It’s about leaping into the ocean and letting intuition take over. Musicians need to respond to the changing times. What worked for the last year might suddenly not be relevant anymore. There’s no point in doggedly finding better, more persuasive ways to get record label execs to listen to your CD. These days, you’d best get your YouTube channel up and running, because that’s what they’ll expect to see. As an artist, you may have a trademark –  a good line in sad, bluesy love songs, or an affinity with an instrumental sound for which you are known. One day, be prepared that you may never write on that theme again, it’s time for a make-over and having previously been a guitarist you now only want to play the trumpet. Or ditch your backing band, shave your head and release a solo unplugged album. Which your existing fans may hate – but which your expanding audience is ready for. Embrace these quantum transformations wholeheartedly! The emergent butterfly no longer needs to excel at being the best caterpillar. Things move on. Respond. There’s enormous freedom in editing, speeding and cleaning your flow – be it songwriting, recording, networking or marketing. Minimum effort, maximum result is a mantra that works for me.

7. Something Works or Doesn’t Work. The best songs? Nice hooky melodic flow, not too long, beginning, middle and end. The best singing? From the heart, keeping it real on a subject you know about. The best breathing technique? Get it in, get it out. Best customer/fan PR? Draw the people in, give them something real, communicate your message, honour the time spent together, give thanks, let them choose whether to deepen their relationship with you. Be excited about what you do – desire is the rocket fuel that drives any project and pulls people in, making them feel part of a wider community all buzzing on a compatible vibe. Lack of desire for your own art will repel people. All artists go through ’empty shell’ periods where their marketing speak or concert patter becomes reactive, repetitive. Times like this, it’s worth stepping back from the public eye and rekindling the passion.

8. Value is Different from Price. Very important when a musician is negotiating for  session/gig/consultancy/teaching wages. If new instrumental students baulk at my fee, I remind them that the expertise I will bring to them is literally priceless. An investment that will give them hours and hours of potentially infinite satisfaction and empowerment beyond the initial lesson. Same for a gig or function. I’m confident that my value far exceeds the amount of money paid – which is really only an offering of energy in return for the raw material of my soul. Knowing your worth is hugely important these days, more so now that music has been devalued by a saturated marketplace where entertainment is free and ubiquitous. It’s hard not to be affected by this, lowering your prices and standards and also saying ‘yes’ to engagements which are exploitative. When there is a lot of genuine talent out there, how do you price yourself above or below the next person? Only you know if you have something that makes you truly special. Know your value. Then be bold and communicate that value through your actions and words.

9. ‘A’ Players Hire ‘A’ Players. A difficult one, as we’ve all hired staff who are functioning at a sort of intern level and whom we have to train on the job. This is ok for secretarial staff. It’s not so good for band members, session players, business consultants, photographers, engineers or publicity and marketing assistants who are going to be making crucial  phone calls to industry figures. How do you know at interview stage, if you are dealing with an equal and potential peer? They will not be awed by you, they will come across as genuinely self-possessed. They’ll be honest about their experience level and able to negotiate and discuss their own wages and value with an air of confidence. They’ll know your industry and the people in it and have shared reference points, gained through experience. They’ll be able to challenge you in a constructive way and have the right strengths to compliment your weak spots.

10. Real CEOS can Demo. The classic application of this is the music teacher who can play the piece, who knows the landscape inside out, has travelled the territory that the map indicates. Not all music teachers can! The practitioner who is immersed, body and soul in their craft. Not just the musicianship, but the realities of the industry coal face. Taken to a more metaphysical level – like Thomas Dorsey, if you are ‘living the life you sing about in your song’  if there is a congruence between your walk and your talk – this will translate to the punters. So many of whom are looking for something authentic and soulful with which to resonate.

11. Real Entrepreneurs ‘Ship’. Unless I’ve hilariously misunderstood this – this does not mean ‘shipping in the US slang sense, meaning relationship (like customer PR in this context.) This means get your product flying off the shelves  – let go of it and send it into the marketplace even though it may not be flawless and may have elements that could be improved. In other words, ‘done is better than perfect’. Be careful with this one. If it’s your musical product, it’s you that has to live with it being out there in the public domain and it’s counter-intuitive to plug and promote stuff that you feel is not your best. Still, I like the concept of not being too precious and embracing that moment when our art has to live independently.

12. Some Things Need to be Believed to be Seen. Popular books about the ‘Law of Attraction’ talk about this a lot. Have a vision. Everything that has ever existed, existed first, in the mind. See it. Make it real. I’d extend the definition of believed to also mean ‘felt’, in a vibrational sense. If you only work with what you know to be possible, or what you previously thought to be doable, you are not open to the unique path that is your very own. The future isn’t written, nor are the tools for writing it fixed, nor is the vocabulary set in stone. This is very true right now in music and entertainment, concerning media technologies and consumer habits. On an economic, ecological, global and galactic level, all is subject to change. So let your music career truly become a vision quest, holistic and grounded, right from creative inception to the online music store, to the movie sync deal, to the world tour, to the guest appearance at the protest march. Live your dream whilst creating the kind of world, you want to create music in and for. Let your ethical values shine through. If you don’t have some kind of  spiritual practice in your life, now is the time to explore that and to start working in a deliberate way with the tools of visualisation and manifestation. Guide your life from the inside out, design your own path and enjoy the journey.

 I hope you enjoyed this journey!

 


 

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online, graphics-design service, trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation, and executive fellow at the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is the author of The Art of the Start 2.0, The Art of Social Media, Enchantment, and ten other books.

Here is the original film from Silicon Valley Banks CEO Summit in 2011: 12 Lessons Steve Jobs Taught Guy Kawasaki.

 


 

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The Art Of Nunchaku

 

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This unique weapon, popularised by Bruce lee and Dan Inosanto, amongst others, originates in Okinawa, Japan, but variations on the flail-like implement are common throughout South East Asia. Some theories situate it as an adapted farm tool, but opinions differ, since historically, martial arts were often the preserve of the ruling classes. Spinning my ‘chucks everyday, in hot sun, freezing rain, mud, ice or high winds –  is keeping me sane. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to glamourise weapons, aggression or violence and the nunchuks have a bit of a bad rep. However, like all weapons and fighting arts, if you train with the correct attitude, the idea of using it to cause grief, starts to really fade into the distance. Instead, it becomes the most supreme meditational tool, teacher and ally. As in life, I lose the rhythm and have to stop and unwind my self-entanglements. As in life, I drop them, I pick them up. The key is not how many times you fail, but the manner in which you recover. I am used to wielding quite heavy white oak Japanese bokken and Jo. Also I practice Kung Fu and lift weights – so I have quite a lot of strength. But the real beauty is that for this, physical muscle isn’t necessary – only the weight of the wood itself and the exact momentum needed to deliver it to the hand. It’s about pure feeling and flow. Having faith in movement. Free fall and flight. Mental dialogue chatters away, but the only constant is the clanking and rattling of the chain, and the powerful ‘phoommm’ sound of displaced air. There is the lovely, fleeting sense of mastery. (I’m doing something REALLY clever!) Interspersed with moments of indignity, ecstasy and the humble nobility of being covered in mud from all the wipeouts and flowerbed retrievals. A bit like life. At every new level and new move, the Nunchuks teach me, painfully if necessary, what I need to know. For instance, you really don’t want to hit your funny bone at high speed, or at any speed – the hard whack I gave myself disabled me for 10 minutes, and my fingers were numb and buzzing a fortnight later. Not so funny. (My flatmate looking out of the window, spotted me, prostrate, clutching my arm, face screwed up and breathing raggedly, unable to move. She thought it was part of my ‘spiritual practice’…a prayer perhaps?)

I have also learned that hitting myself in the face, hard, is something I only want to experience the one time. Accidents with this light, but deadly force, really, really, really hurt. Therefore, best to approach the practice, being as present as possible, with respect and curiosity. I feel like I used the nunchaku in a previous life. Like music, and certain languages, it feels like something remembered, not learnt for the first time. Like music, it plays itself with only a little coaxing. I am loving it, the simplicity, the dexterity, the mental peace. It’s wonderful to discover (rediscover?) a new (old?) friend.

(Note: Best to study this with a proper teacher and within the context of a dedicated personal martial arts training framework. It’s not illegal to carry them if  they are concealed in a bag and are for obvious study purposes but questions may be asked if you brandish them in public. If you want to buy them, you may be asked for ID that proves you are over 18. )

Resources:

Agogi Wing Chung  (Streetwise Wing Chun Kung Fu for the 21st century. Developed by Founder, Sifu Eric Nicos. )

Tao Sport (London based boxing and martial arts equipment supplier to the combative sports and fight community in the UK since 1988.)

 


 

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The Benefits of Running…

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Helping motivate a friend to run, as a skill swap for some motorcycle lessons, is for me, another great insight into the connection between physical exercise and musical expression – particularly singing and breathing. Breath is the key to our energy levels and brain, organ and muscle functions. As potential athletes, we have a huge advantage if we already study and train our breath through a parallel discipline. As singers who train our bodies, we naturally build up a lot of the physical support and lung power needed to sing. Running is also empowering, busts stress, aids mental capacity and floods the system with a cocktail of naturally occurring, feel-good, free drugs. It’s a wonderful resource which is just literally, a breath away.

If you’ve never run before, or want to return to running after years of absence, I would encourage anyone to just do it. I ran out of my house about 8 years ago, in a state of grief and confusion due to circumstances in my life involving a painful break up. The only thing that helped my mental condition, was hardcore, driving physical exertion. It became a habit, fitted well around existing martial arts studies – and I’ve never looked back – to the extent that I would now call my self a runner. Here’s my Top Ten Tips. I like to demystify disciplines which I think can be enjoyed and claimed by ordinary, non-expert people. Be sensible however, and work within your limits. The following is not a medically approved personal training plan. I have always been an autodidact, with some unorthodox ways of learning and of teaching, which not everyone has to agree with. This works for me and is for inspiration only.
*Be sensible and work within a framework that suits you and your current limits.

1. Shoes. Much is made of (and much is charged for) running shoes. What brand, what material, what sole etc. I don’t think anyone needs to spend vast amounts. I’m struck by kids in other parts of the world who learn to play football, in bare feet, starting from nothing, with nothing. If you are a human (or not!) and have legs and feet, (and even if you don’t, but that’s a different blog entry for another day) you are designed to run! Your trainers do not have to be used exclusively for your running, in fact it’s best if they are worn in other settings and are soft and springy, through wear. Make sure they feel supportive and comfortable and can last in wet weather, get them on – and run.

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2. Clothes. Again, no special, expensive garb necessary, in my opinion. Be cool enough and lightweight, but waterproof. Wear a hat if you know your ears are going to be sensitive to the elements (Mine are). Gloves always feel like a good idea at first, but usually end up too hot. Tuck keys, braids, laces, jewellery etc out of the way – you want to feel as light, relaxed and unencumbered as possible – especially if you hit psychological challenges.

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3. Where to run. Wherever you can. Make the most of your locality. Some people advise not to run too much on concrete, to minimise shocks through the heels. I’d advise more care over lumpy, country terrain where you have to take care of ankles. Uphill is challenging but worth it, and downhill likewise. Ideal route is a large green city or country park where you can stretch out  for distances but experience a variety of terrain and gradients underfoot. Logs to jump over, railings to vault, dogs to race, skateboard parks, benches, wall and level crossings can all enrich the experience. You want about 3-5 miles worth of ground to play with and the option to extend your route, mileage and duration in a loop.

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4. When to run. There are different benefits to different times. I love to run at dusk – especially when it’s an active release from what might have been a sedentary or ‘all-up-in-my-head’ kind of a work day. I can literally hear the mental dialogue and daily grind flowing out, and away. I love trying to beat the light, and love the company of bats, insects and sunsets. Noon, on an empty stomach is great. Early morning sets the day up, but is not my personal favourite – unless I can do it again in the evening. You can try running if you know you need to calm down, work off a bad mood, alter your perspective, release negative thoughts. (I ran, lifted weights and did martial arts right before my wisdom tooth extraction, as I knew I’d welcome the endorphin blanket.)

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5. How to run. There are many books and thoughts on technique, but I think each body shape finds a way to do what is actually a very normal thing to do. Two main things need your deep focus. Breathing and legs. Your legs need to be in good enough shape to carry you forth. I find it useful to think of running as just dancing, bouncing – then be carried forward and let your legs respond to save you from falling over. Momentum, not speed is the initial goal. Generally speaking, the emphasis should be on the ball of the foot. Keep light and springy. Start slowly and hold something in reserve, and try to distribute your energy evenly and smoothly without sudden, punishing spurts or grinding, stumbling halts. Think: legato. Focus initially on the road ahead and choose goals along the way. The next lamp post, the next bench, as far as the gate etc. When I began, I noticed a lot of tension and constriction across my sternum and shoulders and wondered what to do with why arms and hands. Now I know…let them move, let them swing and express. Bunch them into to pumping upper cuts, (useful if you want to look tough, no-one will mess with you!) or make swimming or flicking motions. Experiment and stay loose. As with so many things in life, small efficient steps strung together can really eat up the road and can be easier on the legs than massive galloping lunges. Only time yourself if it feels like a fun thing to do. I prefer to view the goal as ‘keeping in motion’ rather than ‘finishing’. Nothing every really begins or ends. Including you. All is flow. And anyway, who wants to race to the finish of a process that eventually, (believe me) will become pure fun?

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6. Tools for surviving the run. OK let’s say it again: BREATH and LEGS. You need to breathe. Initially, until it’s second nature (a point that does come and you will notice it) you will need to pay constant attention to your breathing. It’s your fuel upon which everything depends. Obvious, really. Get it in and get it out. The exhalation is where all your tension, lactic acid, and other waste products can travel swiftly out and away, freeing up more capacity. Everyone experiences a stitch at first. A side stitch can be painful and difficult to run through, but keep moving. It’s your body saying, ”lots more oxygen now please” – so listen and get more air in. The other thing that helps a stitch is to engage and support the natural abdominal corsetry in the surrounding area. Bear down, tense and pull in the muscles as you breathe. *Note, as with singing, the breath and the abdominal engagement are independent systems that help each other. Then your legs and feet need to be strong enough to enjoy constant motion. Visual images really help and can transcend and augment physical limits in a shamanistic way. The mind is powerful, and precedes all physical endeavour. When I began running, I envisaged myself as a wheel of fire, arms and legs pumping in circular motion. Do this often enough and the wheel will carry you. Find your own images/invocation and work them until they feel real. Discover the mystical depths of your own power. It’s your quest, your own mythic undertaking and your mental endurance will naturally rise to the occasion.
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7. Motivation.  This will take care of itself, if you give it a chance. The feel-good chemicals will hook you in fairly quickly and you’ll feel weird if you don’t honour your daily or weekly run. The way we build a new habit into our lives, is through repetition. I dislike the word ‘routine’ as it makes me feel numb. When we confront blocks, pain barriers, or inner resistance it can feel terrifying, and exciting. It can feel very uncomfortable and challenging and bring up emotions. But it shouldn’t be numbing or dulling. It should feel like expanding not contracting. Not surprisingly, as a musician, I prefer the concept of rhythm – there will be natural gaps in your week where a run can happen. Just allow it. Some like to run with a buddy. If so, make sure you harmonise in terms of speed, fitness, punctuality and commitment to the task. You don’t want really to be accommodating someone else’s needs or schedule. And in the early days, conversation is not really possible – you need all your breath and will to focus on the running. Don’t be surprised if thoughts such as ‘Please let this end’  or ‘I really hate this’ run through your head. You might want to encounter your demons in private, not in company. Get motivated by watching runners and athletes on TV, or talk to marathon runners – get the buzz by proxy, and let your inspiration bubble away. Imagine what it could be like to be fitter, faster, lighter, happier, stronger and more energised and know that each run takes you closer.

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8. Self-maintenance. Stretch or move before and after, whatever areas you think might be problematic for you. Hamstrings, Achilles tendon, quads, buttocks, hip sockets, are all areas that might speak to you loudly the next day, if they’ve not moved for a while. Pace yourself  as you build up strength. Good hot baths can help. As with music practice, sharp, sudden pains in joints mean stop immediately. Joints to watch out for are ankles and knees. Massage and move both just as a daily practice. Gradual, steady pain in muscle group means work through it. Any other parallel exercise you can do – yoga, martial arts, Pilates, dancing etc will help. Having strong abdominal support is vital and makes everything easier and safer – it’s a subject worthy of a separate article. I recommend Pilates. Get a book, read it, try it. What is Pilates? Briefly…Joseph Pilates  invented his own exercises to heal his own illness, during wartime  privation and (according to some accounts) captivity. From a place of extreme weakness he built himself back to health by training his body to lift its own weight. The appropriate muscle group to do this is the abdomen, the core, which contains many muscle groups and strands. It supports the organs and back. Many injuries and problems are to do with lack of  core support. It’s much easier to run, when you feel supported, contained and held in your torso area. Pilates exercises are done slowly, with focus and concentration, and even in small amounts, constitute a phenomenal workout. The principles are very practical and very simple, so don’t be mystified by the vast amount of info out there and don’t feel you have to shell out money for expensive classes. I recommend the training tips of athletes who have applied and interpreted Pilates in a way that shapes their own art in a relevant way, such as ballerina Darcey Bussell and tennis player Martina Navaratilova.

… … …

9. ‘Don’t’s. Generally speaking, don’t eat before a run, not even a small amount. In fact it’s best if you have a slight appetite as long as your run is not likely to exceed an hour. You don’t want anything weighing you down, and even a snack will make its presence felt. You also want to give your body a chance to burn off existing calories. Likewise don’t go crazy on food immediately afterwards. Let the run ‘feed’ you for a while. Also, don’t worry, watch or compare too closely the speed or quality of others’ running. Your journey is your own.

… … …

10. ‘Dos’. Do smile like a maniac at passers-by. Do show off by having subtle races with and overtaking other runners, especially by taking the inside of a curve. Play around with the mysteries of broken rhythm, pace and personal limits. Notice how it takes less energy to leap, not just avoid obstacles. Notice how much fun it feels to sprint the last 100 yards of the return journey, when logically you should be too tired? Listen to your instincts and discern your own energy levels. Feeling a bit reluctant or resistant? Run anyway. Feeling so exhausted by life that you are tripping over your own feet and need a nap instead? Leave it for another day.

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(Warning – like all physical exercise, running can be hypnotic and addictive. I use it as displacement activity and escapism. What was once a block can become a safety net – interesting, no? But as vices go, it’s not a bad one to have!)

 

Some inspiring resources:

Exorcising Ghosts A great website containing Haruki Murakami resources in English.

(As well as being a well-known author, Murakami is a serious runner, with a memoir entitled: ‘What I Talk About When I talk About Running.’)

Fast Girls – hip British film about running, with a line-up of fabulous female protagonists.

Kenichi Ito  – Japanese athlete – who runs on all fours. Maybe not quite my ambition, but points for dedication and self-mastery!

Official website of  400 meters champion Christine Ohuruogo.

 

(P.S. For those that don’t know me, I am a ‘Nu Jazz’ singer/songwriter, pianist and guitarist, based in London, UK. You can can check out my tunes and videos on my WEBSITE and come and like my Facebook Music page. Come and say hi…I would love to hear from you!)


 

 

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The Motorcycle Diaries #1

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Now that I live with bikers, it seemed only a matter of time before this kind of thing would happen. First basic bike lesson, leather clad in boiling sunshine, courtesy of my extremely patient and expert housemate. I look cheerful in this shot, but inside, am a mass of jangled nerves, shaky legs and alien emotions having just got back from 3 hours of my first tentative inroads into riding this beast –  a reasonably lightweight 500 cc Kawasaki, belonging to our other co-resident – who is going to laugh upon seeing this blog post.

First impressions? Extreme appreciation for the surprising turns of life. Gratitude and celebration and sincere respect for the responsibility, power and precision involved not just in riding the bike, but watching my friend teaching a beginner (me) how to do it. I was in safe hands. I found it quite stressful but also amazing. I could get used to the heat and constant smell of petrol. Yes it is a bit like a pushbike, albeit with the instant death/collateral damage factor looming larger. Yes it is really heavy, but because of martial arts training I am really strong – used to lifting people and objects larger than myself. I only fell off once, (whilst stationary – classic huh?) so all in all, not bad. Note to self, next time, got to be less tense. (Breathing helps. I actually teach people how to breathe so…need to apply that!) More practice needed and more relaxation, feeling not thinking, and getting used to ye olde clutche controle.

Seriously…if there is something you’d like to do, do it today – just for no reason other than to expand yourself. Even if you are nervous, especially if you are nervous, or even mortally terrified. Fear is just energy waiting to be transformed into something useful and hopefully, fun. There’s nothing you can’t do. And if you know others with skills, don’t be too proud to let them show you stuff. Let yourself have some spills, cock-ups and silly questions. I remembered some priceless insights today about teaching music, which I intend to apply immediately. I had forgotten what it feels like to be a beginner diving in at the deep end, whilst the person showing you how is swimming in their element of 20 years. I’m even more aware of the fears, blockages and previous traumas students are dealing with as they walk through my door to sing and play for pretty much the first time. I need to allow more time for breaks, whilst each chunk of learning beds down. I can remember to allow students time to get used to new sensations, time to breathe and shake out, relax, laugh. Make it ok for them to ask questions and to make them feel that what they are attempting is normal and doable. And with each small step, to encourage periods of well deserved reflection, celebration and acknowledgement. It’s ok to feel proud and dazed and humble and a bit overwhelmed at various stages of the leaning curve. It’s really worth it. The great thing is that, in the end, we are all, more or less capable, more or less ok, more or less good enough to have a go.

Mastery starts with the attempt, no?

Till next time,

Bye for now…

Faye.

(P.S. For those that don’t know me, I am  a London-based Nu Jazz singer/songwriter, pianist and guitarist. You can can check out my tunes and videos here, and/or come and like my Facebook Music page. Come and say hi!)

 


 

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Some thoughts on the guitar as a ‘voice’…

Blue Songwriter

 

I have been woodshedding and teaching all weekend – including a guitar student who is learning very much from scratch the classical route, repertoire, and technique. Then, another client for whom I provide more of a singer-songwriter consultancy session, overhauling both voice and guitar accompaniment to improve both the technical chops of each and the overall performance. With an end goal of  building a set for busking and gigging everything from Nina Simone to Radiohead.

I always played guitar as a teenager, but in my mid 20’s embarked on a serious revision of my playing. I re-started classical tuition with a film score composer and former student of both Julian Bream and John Williams. In stepping right back to the beginning, I had time and space to really think about the following: tone, space, position, percussion, phrase and phase, dynamics, impact, texture and surface, fingers and fingernails, tension, volume, sound production, light, shade, emotion, narrative , left hand/right hand independence and co-operation – and the importance of every singe pluck and strike.

The guitar has a huge range of expression and I have learnt to play or aim to play as I would sing – aiming to make every note count. Here’s some random top ten tips which can be applied to a range of guitars, genres and playing styles. (These suggestions assume right-handedness – sorry lefties!) Useful for students and for teachers. If you can engage at least some of the time with these, it will add an edge to your playing that makes all the difference. By the way, whilst effects are a thing of joy, I would suggest stepping away (for now) from the SupaHendrixTurboMojoVibe pedal until you can create expression with just the bare basics – acoustic or clean amp sound.

* Don’t let anyone tell you that vibrato is inappropriate or tasteless.(Whilst playing 16th century madrigals for instance – oops!) Practice it anyway as a matter of course until you have the strength and balance and thus choice, to employ it or not. It can be the subtlest, sweetest thing and is a natural part of song. Try telling a bird not to trill!

* A good practice method is to drill a piece of material, taking it through a different sonic ‘rinse’ each time. Be imaginative and have fun. Play the piece ‘like a lullaby’,  or projecting ‘to the back of the Royal Albert Hall’, rising in volume as you rise in pitch, ‘as though your life depends on it’ or ‘with compassion’, ‘sunnily’ in a ‘purple’ way. ‘clean’, ‘dirty’ extra legato or staccato, or with a different tonal weight and colour for each phrase.

* Speed, technical tricks and advanced scale patterns are not as communicative as groove and feel and a simple idea played with assurance and not too quickly. Most listeners are hit by music on a subliminal level first. Relax and they will too. Also, silence speaks. Honour the spaces. Can you say what you want to say with less notes altogether?

* Never underestimate the value of the minor pentatonic scale. Know your fretboard and fingerings and you can build in passing notes, morph into blues or aeolian or relative major territory. Simple tools, infinite expression.

* A decent classical instrument has a big contrast between the left hand ‘tasto’ side of the sound hole (soft, muffly) and the right hand ‘ponticello’  (hard, metallic) area near the bridge. Get your strumming hand used to traversing these areas mid-phrase without looking.

* When playing on electric, experiment with striking downwards with the plectrum and nail simultaneously, literally crash into the string. With quite a lot of left hand bend and enough amp gain, you will get a pleasing pinched harmonic jazz/rock/soft metal effect. (but if this genre is not pleasing to you, avoid at all costs!)

* Make your phrases, riffs, solos and even chords more interesting and clever by looking at the punctuation of how you get into and out of every single note. Can you side up to the note? How about sliding off as you finish the note? How about rapid vibrato followed by fast slide up? Go through your piece with a toothpick and make decisions and fix them.

* A decent semi-acoustic guitar is also a drum, more so when amplified. Use the heel of your right hand to downstroke and damp/chop the chord at the same time. This can be very funky and ‘vibey’ especially when contrasted with more lyrical passages.

* Especially if you are still studying, you might want to remember the following general rule: The left and right hand are like 2 brains with different roles that interconnect but are independent. Both have to be relaxed and precise. The left hand is not there to express or be percussive or forceful or tense or effortful. Its job is to create accurate pitch. I see new students pressing too hard on the fretboard with the left hand, whilst neglecting the dynamic bite and expression of the right hand, which is what creates the tonal expression and velocity. Play like this for too long and you will get very sore left hand fingers and left shoulder tension and right hand fingers that feel ineffectual and weak plus an aching right hand wrist from overcompensating. (Obvious exception to this rule is ‘tapping’, where both hands are fretting, hammering and plucking.)

* Lastly, Silence speaks. Honour the spaces. Can you say what you want to say with less notes altogether?

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this. So who are the most soulful, most expressive guitar players? In terms of resources I would be hard pressed to cite my favourite guitarists for illustration of this – there’s far too many, both alive and deceased and all too different to compare. We should all listen, research and learn widely. But here’s just a few suggestions. Check out: Orianthi Panagaris (herself a keen devotee of Carlos Santana) Malina Moye, B.B King, Albert King (died 1992) and Emily Remler (died 1990).


 

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The ‘Woodshed’

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(Image from The Girls in The Band.)

The ‘woodshed’. That place where jazzers go to practice. How to explain to friends, family, loved ones and significant others, (and even some fellow musicians), the sovereignty, the absolute non-negotiable sanctity of the woodshed? How to really convey this?

I spend hours and hours and hours alone, in a room with myself and my instrument (s). And I love it. I think I love it more than anything or anyone. Only the pure ecstasy of performing – of going to the other end of the scale, of  extrovert, gregarious all out curtain-up showtime beats it. Very little else. Anyone who has had to fight for this sacred chunk of devoted artistic time can recognise its true value. Painters and writers know. Also nuns, monks, hermits, ascetics, celibates and renunciates.

Things I might do in the ‘woodshed’ might include the following: composition/arrangement, then drilling through and memorising guitar parts for various solo or collaborative projects. Or, maybe the world has literally DISAPPEARED because a song is coming through, coaxing, teasing or exploding its way through the veil. For me, new music comes unbidden, uninvited and with extravagant pomp and splendour. An idea grabs onto a random hook or scale that I was practising anyway, then not just one song but 4, then a surrounding concept album are suddenly THERE, all at once, demanding refinement. It’s a visceral experience of birthing something that will have its way and just HAS to come through. A feeling both ravenous and ravening. Or I might be just in a hypnotic grip of scales and arpeggios, diminished  and major 7ths all up and down the fretboard. Stamina for hands and fingers. For ages. Or the geeky joy of 2 handed tapping in kind of Nu metal/classical way that is frank and pure indulgence. People might fairly observe that playing guitar or indeed anything on your own for hours is kind of wanky. Well, maybe, but we all need that too. For myself, I feel an intense kind of dialogue  with music as a companion and the instrument as a partner that gives back exactly what I give out.

But yes, it’s a love affair.

The woodshed is about more than practice and preparation. (These are of course, essential, but as we know, can be overdone at the expense of spontaneity and creativity onstage, in the moment.) It’s about maintaining a bedrock of physical and technical ease. Being good to go. It’s about knowing the material backwards. Being able to tap into that wellspring of  energy. I cannot feel good about stepping onstage, unless I know I have taken care of my practice. I have to connect with that source every day, if possible. It’s nothing less than a spiritual discipline. Even though I also do a fair bit of staring into space, dreaming and scratching my head…

I could rhapsodise further but…the woodshed calls…’bye for now.

 

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(Trombone player, Melba Liston featured in The Girls in The Band.) 

 The Girls in the Band is a documentary by director Judy Chaikin. Contains glorious archive footage of the great female jazz bands of the ’40’s as well as interviews and music from contemporary musicians. Enjoy this trailer and track down the full film if you can!

 


 

 

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